The First Year of Life

When babies on a vegetarian diet receive sufficient quantities of maternal milk, or adapted baby formula, and their diets contain good sources of energy and nutrients such as iron, vitamin B₁₂ and vitamin D, growth throughout infancy is normal.

Very restrictive diets, however, have been linked with impaired growth and are not recommended for babies during this stage of life.


The maternal milk of vegetarian mothers has a similar composition to that of non-vegetarian mothers, and is nutritionally adequate, but there are certain factors that need to be taken into account:

Mothers with a vegetarian diet should take vitamin supplements or eat foods enriched with vitamin B₁₂, such as breakfast cereals, enriched yeast products, vegetarian milks, and certain soya derivative products, so that the mother, as well as the baby, can meet their vitamin B₁₂ requirement.

It is very important to know if the mother´s diet does not contain reliable sources of vitamin B₁₂, as this being the case, the baby should be given a supplement.

The guidelines for the use of iron and vitamin D supplements for vegetarian babies are the same as for non-vegetarian babies. The vitamin D content of maternal milk varies according to the mother´s diet and exposure to the sun, although, in general, levels of vitamin D in maternal milk are low.

It has been found that vegetarian mothers´ maternal milk contains less docosahexanoic acid (DHA), so expectant mothers with a vegan or vegetarian diet, who do not eat eggs regularly, must supplement their diets with foods high in omega-3 fatty acids or take a vegetarian microalgae DHA supplement. They should also limit the intake of foods which contain linoleic acid, (corn, safflower or sunflower seed oil) and trans fatty acids.

In this way, the maternal milk will have adequate levels of DHA.

If babies are not breastfed or breastfeeding ceases before the first year of age, commercial formula baby milk must be used.

Soya formula (with methionine amino acid, iron and vitamins supplements) is the only option for babies with vegan diets that are not being breastfed.

Neither soya, rice, oat, walnut, almond milk, nor “homemade formulas”, cow´s milk nor goat´s milk must be used to replace maternal milk or commercial formula for babies during the first year. These foods have a low content of fat and protein, and do not have the appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals such as calcium for a baby, and can produce serious nutritional and growth disorders.

Remember that at this age, during the first six months, feeding is possible with maternal milk only.

The guidelines for the introduction of foods other than milk are the same for vegetarian babies and non-vegetarian babies.

They should never been introduced before four months of age.

Foods should be introduced one by one, and each new food separated by at least two or three days, making it easier to identify any food which may cause an adverse reaction.

The first foods, from the fourth or sixth month, can include baby foods made from rice, fruit purées including banana, pear, apple, and vegetables such a carrots and potatoes.

From the fifth or sixth month, wheat and oat (cereals which contain gluten) baby foods can be introduced.

At about seven months, foods high in protein may be introduced, such as cooked and mashed beans (puréed and sieved if necessary), mashed or puréed tofu, and soya yoghurt.

Ovo-lacto-vegetarians, from the ninth month, can also add cow´s milk yoghurt, cooked egg yolk and curds.

Later, when solid foods are being given, foods high in energy and nutrients can be introduced, such as diced tofu, cow´s milk or soya cheese, cooked dried fruits, mashed avocado pear, and small pieces of soya burger.

Corn syrup and honey shouldn´t be given to children under one year old because they have an increased sensitivity to botulism (food poisoning) if they should come into contact with the bacillus, which is known to be common in these foods.

At around six months, the body´s reserves of iron become depleted, affecting vegetarians as well as omnivores, so foods high in iron should be included in the diet, such as enriched cereals. Other sources (always taking age into account when introducing them) are whole foods, legumes, green-leaved vegetables, and dried fruit and nuts.

To help with the absorption of iron, vitamin C should be included, which is found in green vegetables, citrus fruits and blackcurrant, or a glass or orange juice can be taken with meals.

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